According to recent research from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, 67 percent of adults who are online use social networking sites. And that's only in the U.S. According to research from comScore, in October of 2011, 1.2 billion users worldwide—which accounts for 82 percent of the world's population—visited social networking sites. With so much of the online population participating in social media, it seems like a great way to reach your target market. Organizations are no longer questioning “if” social media should be part of the marketing toolkit. The questions now become: which social networks to use, how often to use them, what type of content to publish, and how to measure results.
With all of these pending questions, it’s no longer OK to jump into social media without a supporting strategy. Many marketers create a Facebook page, Twitter profile and LinkedIn account in one day. Then, they read an article about Pinterest and join Google+ on a whim and think their social media marketing is taking off with a bang. Instead, all that bangs is their head against their desk as hours of each day are spent trying to create and manage conversations in five different communities.
That’s the thing about social media; each network is its own community. We speak of “social media” in an esoteric, one-size-fits-all marketing solution, but every channel has its own set of socially acceptable rules and best practices. LinkedIn doesn’t overflow with conversation about holiday bows and Pinterest doesn’t focus on career achievements. Every social media channel has it’s own requirements for marketers to find success in using them.
To get the most from social media as a useful marketing tool, you can’t jump in haphazardly. It’s not enough just to set up a profile—anyone can do that. Your involvement has to have a strategy and purpose behind it. Your social media efforts will have a greater impact on your organization, and a lower impact on your head, when they are tied into a solid content strategy. Here are four steps to help you decide which social networks are the most beneficial for your organization and how to use them to achieve the best results.
- Define your goals. As with any other marketing activity, there has to be a reason to get involved in social media. What do you want the content you post to do for your business? Attract more visitors? Delight customers? Boost sales? Strengthen your online presence? While social media are free to join, keeping up with creating enough content can take a toll on your resources. Set benchmarks for your efforts and make sure your reasons for joining can provide measureable results.
- Find your audience. No matter how focused and informative your content, it doesn't do much for your organization if no one is reading it. The channels you choose to participate in should be a direct result of where your target market partakes in conversation. If your clients, associations or prospects have never heard of Pinterest, don’t waste time learning about its tools. Choose channels where you will organically connect with your target audience.
An easy way to determine if a social media channel is the right fit is to do a simple search for your competitors, industry terms, clients and associations. If you find a lot of participation, start to listen to what people are talking about. If you feel compelled to share information or respond to conversations, it’s a good sign that the channel is worth your time and effort.
- Know how to behave. LinkedIn moves quickly, Facebook a bit faster and Twitter is all on, all the time. While you always want to speak in your authentic brand voice and maintain a consistent personality, every network has its own “rules of engagement.” Facebook is more personal and LinkedIn is more professional. People in the LinkedIn community do not want to see updates from you every 10 minutes, or every hour for that matter. They also don’t want to know where your team met for breakfast. However, people on Facebook will be more open to hearing about your daily happenings and may even “like” the posts you make about breakfast events.
Pinterest users don’t look fondly on brands that use it as a blatant broadcast tool to promote products or services. People that join a Hangout in Google+ are giving up valuable time in hopes of good dialogue and interesting conversation. Get to know the socially acceptable practices of each community to avoid getting booted out.
- Create a conversation calendar. One of the most common questions we hear is, “I started a Facebook page, but what do I say?” A conversation calendar provides a content resource to pull from that ties together your ongoing marketing goals, company promotions and important news stories. Set up a spreadsheet with the following columns:
It’s important to list each social network in its own column to create content that works for each channel. To get ideas for what to say, look at your blog and pull from past posts. Check out news sources or blogs within your industry and share articles you find interesting. Think about a healthy mix of different types of content (informative, promotional, interactive, etc.). Then, schedule three to five posts per week for an entire month.
- Draft date
- Post date
- Content bucket (theme)
- Keyword target (if that is important to you)
- Social media channels you’re participating in (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
You can always supplement the conversation calendar with up-to-the-minute information, but planning and scheduling content ahead of time will set a foundation for consistently connecting with your target audience.
Social media must be approached with a specific purpose, tact and audience in mind. Once you create a strategy around who you’re speaking to, where to find them, how to approach them, and what to say—social media become a wonderful way to connect with prospects, leads and clients. Most channels also have helpful analytics so you can measure your efforts to determine where you're getting the best results. Just don’t be the Facebook page, LinkedIn profile or Twitter account that’s all set up with nothing to say.
Dechay Watts is the chief strategy officer for SPROUT Content, a content marketing agency that helps businesses grow through valuable content with a purpose.